Northeast Times

'He was smart, tough and loved to serve'

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Ar­len Specter is be­ing re­membered fondly by some loc­al people who worked with him dur­ing a pro­fes­sion­al ca­reer that las­ted about a half-cen­tury.

Specter, who served Pennsylvania for an un­pre­ced­en­ted five terms in the U.S. Sen­ate, died Sunday at his home in East Falls after a long battle with can­cer. He was 82.

After a fu­ner­al on Tues­day, he was bur­ied in Sha­lom Me­mori­al Park in Hunt­ing­don Val­ley.

“Ar­len was like an older broth­er. I re­mained friends with the sen­at­or throughout his ca­reer. It was forty-sev­en years of friend­ship,” said former state Sen. Bob Rovn­er, who worked un­der Specter when he was dis­trict at­tor­ney. “He helped so many Pennsylvani­ans, Re­pub­lic­ans and Demo­crats. He voted in­de­pend­ently. He was not a rub­ber stamp.”

When Specter en­rolled at the Uni­versity of Pennsylvania in the late 1940s, his fam­ily re­lo­cated from Kan­sas to Phil­adelphia. The fam­ily lived in a row­house at 1213 Stirl­ing St. in Ox­ford Circle.

Specter first gained prom­in­ence as as­sist­ant coun­sel to the War­ren Com­mis­sion, which was in­vest­ig­at­ing the 1963 as­sas­sin­a­tion of Pres­id­ent John F. Kennedy. He would go on to co-au­thor the con­tro­ver­sial “single bul­let the­ory,” which claimed that Kennedy and Texas Gov. John Con­nally, who sur­vived, were wounded by the same bul­let fired by Lee Har­vey Os­wald and that there was no second gun­man.

In 1965, Demo­crat-turned-Re­pub­lic­an Specter de­feated in­cum­bent James Crum­l­ish to be­come Phil­adelphia dis­trict at­tor­ney. He lost a close race to May­or Jim Tate in 1967, but was re-elec­ted dis­trict at­tor­ney in ’69. In 1973, he lost the DA’s of­fice to Em­mett Fitzpatrick.

More losses fol­lowed in 1976 (to John Heinz in the Re­pub­lic­an U.S. Sen­ate primary) and ’78 (to Dick Thorn­burgh in the primary for gov­ernor).

In 1980, he de­feated former Pitt­s­burgh May­or Pete Fla­herty to win a Sen­ate seat. He was a mod­er­ate, an­ger­ing con­ser­vat­ives by op­pos­ing Robert Bork’s nom­in­a­tion to the Su­preme Court in 1987.

In 1991, lib­er­als were en­raged with his ag­gress­ive ques­tion­ing of An­ita Hill, who made claims of sexu­al har­ass­ment against Su­preme Court nom­in­ee Clar­ence Thomas.

Specter sought the 1996 Re­pub­lic­an pres­id­en­tial nom­in­a­tion, but re­ceived little sup­port. He dropped out in Novem­ber 1995 and en­dorsed Sen. Bob Dole, who was from his ho­met­own of Rus­sell, Kan.

In 1999, he went out on his own to vote “not proven” after Pres­id­ent Bill Clin­ton was im­peached by the House of Rep­res­ent­at­ives.

By 2009, it was clear that Specter was go­ing to lose the Re­pub­lic­an primary the fol­low­ing year to Pat Toomey. So, he switched to the Demo­crat­ic Party and sought a sixth term. Joe Ses­tak ended Specter’s polit­ic­al ca­reer in the primary thanks in large part to a com­mer­cial show­ing Specter say­ing, “My change in party will en­able me to get re-elec­ted.”

“He was a politi­cian and elec­ted of­fi­cial who took his job very ser­i­ously,” said Al Tauben­ber­ger, who knew Specter in his polit­ic­al roles and as pres­id­ent of the Great­er North­east Phil­adelphia Cham­ber of Com­merce. “He was al­ways avail­able to dis­cuss is­sues, wheth­er you agreed with him or not. He knew how im­port­ant com­prom­ise was to Amer­ic­an demo­cracy.”

Former U.S. Rep. Bob Bor­ski, who served from 1983 to 2002, re­calls work­ing with Specter on is­sues such as deep­en­ing the Port of Phil­adelphia, en­cour­aging de­vel­op­ment along the North Delaware Av­en­ue river­front, clean­ing up en­vir­on­ment­al haz­ards at the old Frank­ford Ar­sen­al to make it ap­peal­ing to private de­velopers and sav­ing jobs at the Navy de­pot on Rob­bins Av­en­ue in Lawndale and the Nav­al Shipyard in South Phil­adelphia.

“He was one of the last of the so-called mod­er­ates in the Re­pub­lic­an Party and, quite frankly, there aren’t that many left on the Demo­crat­ic side,” Bor­ski said. “He was smart, tough and loved to serve. He had the clout and didn’t hes­it­ate to use that power for Pennsylvania. He fought for us all the time and made a lot of tough votes throughout his ca­reer.” ••

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You can reach at twaring@bsmphilly.com.

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